With the world on pause, many within the attractions industry are wondering what a “new normal” will look like. While most areas are still on lockdown of some sort, Tennessee recently said they will not be extending their stay-at-home order beyond April 30. This actually allows many businesses throughout Tennessee to reopen on May 1st and it seems there are quite a few who will be the first to do so.
For those unfamiliar with the area, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is one of the top tourist destinations in the country. It sits just outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is the biggest draw in the area. To give you an idea of just how popular this area is, the national park brought in 12.5 million tourists during 2019. To put that into perspective, Epcot at Walt Disney World brought in slightly less people in 2018 at 12.4 million.
As of the writing of this article, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has not announced an official reopening date. However, officials have said they are starting to make preparations to be ready for opening.
Between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, there are literally hundreds of attractions ranging from mini-golf to dinner shows and theme parks and everything in between. After the pandemic shut everything down in this area, it has been a relative ghost town. So much so that the numbers for the virus have remained extremely low.
To give you an idea of just how well the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area has done in Tennessee, these are the latest numbers. Since they started testing for coronavirus, there are only 29 people who tested positive. All things considered, that is a pretty incredible number considering the population of the county is just shy of 100,000.
While the media focuses on areas that are the hardest hit (they make the biggest headlines) only 0.0002% of residents have contracted COVID-19. That is an incredibly small number. A big reason for this, the slow season for Pigeon Forge is January/February and the beginning of March. Spring break is when things start to pick up, but by that time the area had pretty much already shut down.
Pictured above is the list of businesses who have already stated they will be opening on May 1st, just after the stay-at-home restrictions have been lifted. While many are hotels and cabin rentals, you’ll also notice several restaurants and attractions in the mix as well.
Beyond May 1st, many businesses have committed to reopening within two weeks of the ban being lifted. Notice most of the shows and dinner shows in town will reopen. Another thing to keep in mind, many of these businesses have not received guidance on exactly what best practices should be used.
What we don’t know right now is exactly what will happen with Dollywood. Previously, the company said it was aiming for a June 1 reopening. However, that hasn’t been made official yet. I believe Dollywood will be the first major theme park in the country to reopen if things continue along the current path. This is, of course, all subject to change.
I genuinely believe all eyes in the attractions industry will be on Pigeon Forge after they reopen. It is the first major tourist destination of this size to slowly open their doors again. I’m sure best (and worst) practices will be taken into account. Will this be the canary in the coal mine when it comes to the rest of the attractions in the United States to open up this summer? We will find out very shortly.
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